A Vancouver law firm has filed a class action lawsuit against Air Transat over its so-called “Mexican Game”. The airline is accused of falsely advertising a Mexico-Canada route as nonstop even though it routinely makes technical stops mid-flight that can add three hours of travel times to the already five-hour flight.
It all started in the winter of 2016, when Transat wet leased some of its Boeing 737-400s to Flair Airlines to operate flights from Calgary, Edmonton, Kelowna, and Vancouver to multiple destinations in Mexico. However, neither carrier told passengers or Mexican authorities that the technical stops mentioned above would be taken. In fact, according to Transat’s Operations Manager Mauricio Diaz, Flair pilots were specifically told to keep quiet about the stop.
“Due to Mexican authorities restrictions, we always need to file a direct flight [plan] Cancún-Edmonton Int’l,” Diaz said in an email. “Never filed Cancún-New Orleans Int’l-Edmonton Int’l because it will be refused [by Mexican authorities]. When the flight is airborne [from Cancun], you can plan the technical stop [in New Orleans] and advise ATC.”
“Transat has advised us that this method has worked successfully and without any issues with previous operators and that there was no negative passenger reaction in these situations,” said Harold Knop, Flair’s Director of Flight Operations, to the pilots on the route in an email. “The flight attendant manager has requested that the pilots make the applicable announcement to the passengers at the appropriate time en route in cruise. The announcement should be clear, brief, and truthful.”
Knopp gives an example announcement in his email: “‘Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to inform that we will be required to land in New Orleans in order to take on additional fuel for our flight to Edmonton. We will be landing at (EX:EX) p.m. We expect to be on the ground for no more than 40 minutes. We apologize for this delay and the inconvenience.”
CBC News used an online repository to investigate these claims earlier this year, and found that during a period between January 28, 2017 and April 8, 2017, eleven consecutive flights advertised as non-stop experience stops en route to Canada.
Vancouver law firm Rosenberg Kosakoski LLP said that Air Transat misrepresented the flight as a direct one to increase their ticket prices while reducing costs by “using substandard aircraft”. The firm went on to say that the airline charged passengers for a direct flight, which often cost more than a flight with stops, and then made stops that weren’t disclosed to passengers until the aircraft was already airborne.
“The Mexican Game allows Air Transat to utilize sub-standard aircraft otherwise incapable of executing the advertised itineraries,” said the firm.
“If these allegations are proven true, we should all be deeply troubled that a Canadian airline would engage in such calculated deception in order to defraud, and possibly endanger, its customers,” said Gram Kosakoski, a lawyer with the firm.
Passengers say that the situation gets worse. They allege that they were held on planes in “sweltering heat”, that flight attendants wouldn’t pass out water, and that the aircraft often smelled like vomit.
“It was advertised as non-stop from my travel agent,” one passenger wrote about the flight.”The crew on board described it as a non-stop and made a point of telling the entire plane they normally made it without the stop. The crew said that the stopovers were due to headwinds, runway length, and passenger load.”
The range of the 737-400s leased to Flair is 4,176 kilometers, while the flight distance from Edmonton to Cancun is 4,248 km. However, Flair said that the planes are equipped with extra fuel tanks. This means that the aircraft are capable of making the southbound trip, since in the cold Canadian climate, the jets will use less fuel; in addition, when flying south, the plane flies along with the jet stream.
However, when flying north, with a full plane of passengers and luggage, the planes need extra thrust to take off in the warm climate and it needs more fuel since it’s flying against headwind. This means that the planes need more fuel, often more than it can carry.
“Flights can deviate from the [flight] plans, but the differences, small or significant, need to be accounted for,” said Transport Canada spokesperson David Savoie. However, he said that there are no penalties for filing flight plans an airline has no intention of following.
According to the CBC report, Transat says that there is no reason to file false flight plans, as it is not against Mexican regulation to make a technical stop in the U.S.
“It is important to clarify that we do not promote our flights as non-stop, and, as you know, direct flights may entail stops along the way,” Air Transat said in a statement to CBC.
The suit needs to be approved by a judge before it can be heard in court.
Featured image from It’s About Airplanes